Today, we are speaking with Jason Nelson, CEO of Legendary Games, about his most recent Kickstarter: Boricubos: Latin American Monsters and Adventures!
Good morning, Jason, it’s awesome to see you launch into another amazing Kickstarter project. Your last project was a successful Asian Monsters bestiary. What made you go from the mythos of Asia to Latin American monsters?
Good morning to you too!
We were excited to keep things rolling on the heels of a bunch of our recent series of “Quick-Starters.” Those were all around 2-3 weeks long, with immediate fulfillment on PDFs and books finally about to arrive later this month and start shipping out to all our backers. This one we did for a full 30 days because it was a bigger and more complex project for several reasons.
One of our regular freelancers, Miguel Colon, had been working on various projects with us (including Asian Monsters) and he pitched me on an idea for a campaign setting based on the Taino culture of Puerto Rico, his own background. A Caribbean setting—but not a “yo ho Pirates of the Caribbean” setting—with rich new character options, adventure hooks, spells and gear, and some very cool new races.
But we’d just been doing this whole series of monster books too, and as it happened we had a bunch of creatures already done for other projects that drew on Central and South American myths and legends. It seemed like a natural combination, so I pitched Miguel on the idea of doing a two-book Kickstarter, with Boricubos: The Lost Isles as the campaign setting with all the player-facing stuff (and GM campaign stuff, of course) and Latin American Monsters as the monster book. We dove into it full speed and built the team-up.
We also had had a lot of requests on our past several monster books to do them for Pathfinder (both versions) as well, and we accepted the challenge and are creating both books for not only 5E but also Pathfinder 1E and 2E. There’s also a beautiful deluxe hardcover that is 5E only that will combine both books in one. It’s a big project, but we’ve done a ton of multi-system projects before and we’ve got a great team that knows how to make it happen.
Your project mentions working with 20 Latinx authors and artists. What was that like?
They’ve been great partners. That was early feedback on Asian Monsters, to make sure to incorporate the vision and voices of people from those cultures, and we had about a dozen people involved in that project from 8 countries across Asia. We wanted at least as many on this project and ended up with 19 contributors from 10 different countries from Costa Rica to Chile and Puerto Rico to Paraguay. Each one brought insights and their creative talents to the table.
Some things we immediately hit on what we wanted, while on others we’ve gone back and forth on whether a thing is really a good fit.
Folklore varies from country to country, and sometimes you might have half a dozen stories that are almost identical but might have a different spelling or a different name entirely or might differ only in one or two details. When that warrants creating a separate RPG monster and when it doesn’t is an open question. There are only so many pages in a book, so sometimes you have to just pick one version of a thing and roll with that. We address that in the introduction to the book and discuss a number of examples (both with new creatures we’ve created and where a new name for a creature could be handled just as well with an existing RPG monster like a ghost, ghoul, merrow, etc.).
They’ve also sparked some discussions on which monsters really represent a culture, and sometimes we kept a monster and sometimes discarded it. We ditched the idea of creating the alebrije as a monster, a highly colorful construct that plays around with the spirit world. It’s definitely a Mexican creature concept, but it’s not really folkloric in the sense of history. The idea was literally dreamed up by Pedro Linares, a Mexican artist, in 1936 after a series of fever-induced dreams and hallucinations. They’ve since become a popular kind of folk art in Mexico, and their artistic style influenced the Pixar film Coco. We could have included them but in the end, decided not to. It didn’t quite feel like a “real” creature of Latin American folklore. You could argue the point; that’s just the decision we made.
There were some we debated and did decide to include too, sometimes due to geography, like the lusca which is a creature from the lore of the Bahamas, which as an English-speaking Caribbean country is not technically part of “Latin America,” but it also is known in nearby Puerto Rico we decided to keep it. Plus it’s just a really cool monster.
What were some interesting facts that you learned while researching Latin American monsters? Were there any challenges in translating their traits/abilities for 5e?
There are a LOT of snake monsters in the legends and lore of Latin America. Like, REALLY a lot of them. Big snakes, little snakes, half-snake/half-something-else monsters. That said, you can pack an awful lot of interesting variation into a long serpentine body, and we kept a lot of those snake monsters in the book because there were some really cool monster concepts there. They might look a lot alike, but they play very differently.
There also were a lot of monsters based around the idea of sin and punishment. Some were collectors of the dead while others were accusers who revealed sin and shame to the community at large. Other monsters feed on the spiritual energy of sin as it festers and essentially coalesces into a living monster, while others lurk in the shadows to stalk the sinful and either offer one last chance at redemption or simply mete out justice. And other monsters do it directly while others lure in the unwary who don’t realize they are putting their own head in the figurative noose until it’s too late.
Many of the stories of these kinds of creatures were very similar across multiple cultures. For example, the seductive siguanaba of Guatemala is the sihuanaba in Costa Rica, cegua in Nicaragua, and sucia in Honduras, sometimes with slight variations as to whether she is a ghost or a demon, and each one shares much in common with the llorona of Mexico. In Latin American Monsters, we made the sihuanaba a fiend and the llorona a ghostly undead for their game stats.
In most respects, 5E is easy to design monster abilities for, because ability definitions are functionally arbitrary. You simply define what the ability does and make sure that it follows the established benchmarks and parameters for creatures of its Challenge level. The Pathfinder versions of these monsters often needed more finessing because those systems require building monsters brick by brick, so to speak. That said, 5E also has a fairly short list of universal conditions like charmed, frightened, restrained, advantage/disadvantage, levels of exhaustion, and so on, so it requires its own kind of finesse to work within those principles while also providing interesting and varied challenges. I’m excited for people to see all the dirty tricks these monsters can pull on your unsuspecting PCs!
What are some Latin American monsters that would immediately be recognizable to some readers?
One of the things that made this project so interesting to tackle is that the myths and legends of Central and South America and the Caribbean have appeared so little in D&D and other RPG books over the years. Think about D&D monsters with roots in those areas and what do you have? The couatl and that’s about it. This book revisits the couatl and introduces an entire family of half a dozen feathered serpents so they can take their place alongside other groups of fiends and celestials like angels and devils, from the life-bringing chicome to the avenging tletli.
People who follow cryptids have heard of El Chupacabra and it definitely appears in our book, but to a lot of people, it’s just kind of a name they’ve heard rather than a monster they’ve fought. Most of the monsters in this book are likely to be brand new to a lot of readers, and that’s an exciting thing to see in a monster book, to provide genuine surprises with monsters that nonetheless have a deeply rooted history and legacy.
This book does include monstrous versions of real-world plants and animals like jaguars, ocelots, quetzals, giant sundews and pitcher plants, anacondas, and even giant mantis shrimp, so anyone who loves a good nature documentary has probably seen some of those!
On top of the Latin American Monsters bestiary book, backers can also choose to receive an adventure, Boricubos: The Lost Isles. What are players to expect from this setting?
Boricubos: Latin American Monsters and Adventures is a full campaign setting based on the myths and legends of the Taino and Arawak cultures of Puerto Rico and the nearby islands. It contains three introductory adventures, revealing a tropical archipelago wracked by a civil war between the god of the land who slew his brother (accidentally, he claims) and their mother, the goddess of the sea, who now wants vengeance upon her one son for his role in the other son’s demise. Some races of Boricubos tend to side with one group or the other, while others try to stay neutral or hire themselves out as mercenaries to fight on both sides.
Meanwhile, a new and lurking presence below the sea is encroaching upon the archipelago, bringing hunger and blood in its wake as it waits for the warring factions of the islands to exhaust themselves fighting each other. When their battle is done, the invaders will pounce and devour the survivors.
It’s a tropical island chain, and many of the dozens of new class options, spells, magic items, and equipment reflect that in a setting where people aren’t generally stomping around with plate mail and greatswords. New class features and abilities lean towards dealing with heat, jungles, oceans, volcanoes, and the ever-present zemi, essentially “little gods” or spirit-idols that represent the manifold influences of spirit magic in the land and sea and sky.
The islanders are mostly suspicious of outsiders, with only a single common port of entry where strangers might find any sort of welcome. The adventure hooks and sample adventures can be used for a campaign entirely set in the archipelago or for a shipload of outsiders encountering these islands for the first time.
What level is this adventure written for? Can players easily throw this story into a campaign?
The adventures that are included in Boricubos: The Lost Isles are short ones, more like “intro to the setting” than a full-on saga. Six Days Til Sacrifice is for levels 1-2, Prophet of Perdition is for levels 3-5, and Ancient Bones is for around levels 11-12. They are short and focused enough that you could drop any of them into an ongoing campaign, though they’re also tied to the setting itself and meant to introduce players and their characters to Boricubos at a variety of stages.
Since it is an archipelago in the middle of the ocean, the whole region of Boricubos is easy to drop into a campaign world. They are literally The Lost Isles, a region of the ocean that has been little known or explored by people from the outside world. Since anything could be out in the ocean beyond the horizon, it’s very easy to drop the whole thing into any campaign world.
This book also contains spells, feats, magical items, and a wealth of new player races. What makes these player options stand out from other choices in 5e?
There’s a lot of stuff out there for 5E now, with more stuff coming out all the time. A lot of it is great, some of it is less great, but all of it can be fun.
The races are really exciting because they are very different from the usual run-of-the-mill fantasy stuff. These are not just elves and dwarves in funny hats. They are richly detailed both in terms of their culture but also their abilities. They have interesting subraces and racial options, with fully developed cultural relationships with one another and with outsiders. You could definitely take them anywhere else in your campaign world and use them; that would lose some of the tight integration of the campaign setting, of course, but they are just flat-out cool classes that would play well in the Realms or Eberron or Greyhawk or whatever your setting of choice might be.
There’s also a brand-new shaman class for 5E (and for Pathfinder 2E; Pathfinder 1E already has that class), which is kind of a divine counterpart to the warlock. They blend nature magic with spirit-binding pacts, both for more general kinds of spirits like Battle, Lore, Ancestors, Fire, or Water, but also tons of specific spirit pacts and boons to tailor your character’s spirit magic powers so one shaman can play very differently from another one.
There are lots of neat class options that play directly within the story elements of the setting too, but I’d say those two items are the biggest standouts for 5E players.
What was your favorite part of creating Boricubos and Latin American Monsters, and why?
Learning about whole new swathes of mythology and legendary creatures that I knew very little about before this project. I knew a little, but mostly the same Aztec/Mayan stories that would be most familiar to other gamers in the USA. Like the Asian Monsters project, but even more so, it was fun to unpack these stories that were new to me.
Ordering art was also super fun, often working with artists directly on creatures from their home cultures. Concept art and sketches are always fun to do, but I was often spoiled for choice when the artist would send over a handful of different sketches and I kinda wanted to do all of them. We’re very happy with the art in this book and know you’re going to love the way this book looks as much as you enjoy the game content.
The last thing I wanted to mention has been the numerous heartwarming messages I’ve gotten from backers, people on social media, and even some of our contributors (and a Brazilian woman I met at an event as we just talked about what we did for a living) who told me how excited they were about this project. This was one message from a backer:
I’ve been keeping an eye on this one and decided to make the plunge. Being from Nicaragua, this looks amazing. In fact, when my mother was visiting, I told her about it, and we began talking about the different stories. I loved how La Carreta Nagua was there, and she told me how my grandma would tell her about it, but she had forgotten the lore. She seemed very interested when I told her some of the lore.
Many told me they felt seen. They felt like their culture was being well represented. They reached out and talked to people in their own families who weren’t even gamers and it sparked a connection. That was really neat to me, and I’m glad to see it when making books for a game can make the world—especially in the middle of all of the EVERYTHING going on these days—just a little brighter.
Boricubos and Latin American Monsters is a terrific two-pronged campaign setting and monster supplement for Latin America, from Puerto Rico to Peru and Argentina to Mexico, brought to you by Legendary Games and a diverse team including nearly 20 Latinx authors and artists! Both Boricubos: The Lost Isles and Latin American Monsters will be available for DnD 5E, Pathfinder RPG, and Pathfinder Second Edition!
Only 8 days left to get your copy!
Note: this is a paid promotion for our partner, Legendary Games. The DMDave team is not responsible for the success or fulfillment of this campaign.